March 6th, 2013 MATTHEW KORFHAGE | Food Reviews & Stories
 

Masa? No Mas.

dish_unomas_3918PORK, PRAWN, PULPO: Half a meal at Uno Mas. - IMAGE: V. Kapoor

At Uno Mas, the new taco shop from Oswaldo Bibiano (Autentica, Mextiza), the al pastor pork is carved off a spinning spit and paired with a shard of pineapple in a taco’s 3-inch corn masa envelope; the chicken comes bathed in subtle, earthy achiote; and the epazote-nettled octopus yields with unexpected softness, carrying none of the characteristic Goodyear elasticity of a mollusk too often overcooked.

Like the other eateries at Kevin Cavenaugh’s culinary strip mall, the Ocean, Uno Mas specializes in just one menu item. Just about every entree on the menu is a two-bite, $2 grilled taco. (Seafood hikes the per-piece price to $3.75.) 

But unlike many taquerias, where the seasoning comes assembly-line off a dirty grill—unchanged but for the choice of meat—Uno Mas’ spices and sauces are tailored to the cut. The light, briny pop of the prawns is brought to ground by the rasp of fresh oregano, while the carnitas take on a faint tang of vinegar.

Still, there’s a mighty problem with the mini-tacos at Uno Mas: They don’t really function as tacos.

In six trips, the snow-globe-diameter masa has taken multiple forms. In two early visits, the single tortilla was so soaked in fat it unzipped itself at the bottom. Two times, the tortillas arrived bone-dry and nearly saltless; the too-thick masa sapped all of the flavor from each taco except the rich, lovely barbacoa and bright-profile prawns. Once, a pair of liberally fat-drenched tortillas were used; this at least seemed to solve the basic-level engineering difficulties. And once, the tortillas were note-perfect. But on that slow Tuesday, the shop closed early and the person manning the counter swabbed pungent ammonia around my table while I ate, tainting the food’s flavor.

On the majority of visits, the generous double-digit array of salsas—from a one-note habanero Maya to a mild aguacate with the texture of melted ice cream—had flavors so stale, watery and faint it was as if we were tasting them from a vast distance, with dim flavors discernible only through a deep haze. On the most recent visit, however, the verde sauce was thick, fresh and rich, as if prepared only moments before.

How to judge such a place? Among the miniscule, buck-a-bite tacos, it is easy to spend $12 or more. And yet each two-chomp nip is a roll of the dice, with worse odds than keno.

Next time I win big at keno, perhaps I’ll try again.

  • Order this: The barbacoa taco ($2) is the standout.
  • Best deal: You’d think it’d be the 12 tacos for $20. But when we ordered that platter, we got a pile of chicken and carnitas and no fun at all. One understands why the kitchen might shy from pushing moronga or tripas, but it was tragic nonetheless. Order singly, with the knowledge the $3.75 seafood tacos usually receive double bulk on fillings.
  • I’ll pass: None of the veggie fillings hold up against bland corn.

EAT: Uno Mas, 2329 NE Glisan St., 208-2764. 11 am-9 pm Sunday-Thursday, 11 am-10 pm Friday-Saturday.

 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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